Raised on a diet of several decades’ worth of renegade creatives and neglected masterpieces, we’re all wise to the disappearing-act that an artist’s back catalogue can perform - doubly so if their financial and/or artistic imperatives lead them to micro-release and micro-format their prodigious output. Whether this is the ultimate in commodity fetishism or an over-aestheticisation of the potlatch syndrome, this process lends the private press/limited-up-the-wazoo document the kind of once-debased aura or mystique reserved for the gallery edition. Uncover the mystery, they say, and you uncover the glory. And then - with the over-prescribed nature of undiscovered- gem glorification rendering the actual music somewhat underwhelming - it disappears into the air, helium balloons dropping back down from the heavens...
This is, however, no great concern vis-à-vis Oren Ambarchi and Robbie Avenaim’s sucker-punch to the solar plexus, Clockwork. Its initial release - an edition of 100 3” CD-Rs on Ambarchi’s Jerker Productions label back in 1999 - let it slide by just enough aesthetic radars to register among cognoscenti. Coupled with Ambarchi’s solo work from the era, the recording marked a shift from the gonzo-rock of the duo’s previous band, Phlegm. Things happen throughout Clockwork that had never really happened before. Recorded in front of a live audience for that ‘what we did on our holidays’ feel, Avenaim and Ambarchi unravel their detourned instrumental panoply into a series of parallel universe propositions - (ie. If Ambarchi’s concurrent vinyl-only Stacte series was Alvin Lucier and Cluster collaborating for Mego, then Clockwork is Mickey Hart’s Gamelan Orchestra performing Ionisation.)
The scarcity of both Clockwork and Stacte within the sphere of known sound lent a subtle distortion to received wisdom of both Ambarchi’s and Avenaim’s development. The jump from their 1999 duo disc on Tzadik, The Alter Rebbe’s Nigun, to their recent collaborative recordings with Keith Rowe, Sachiko M, and Otomo Yoshihide, is indeed a wide and almost inexplicable chasm. Those in contact with Ambarchi’s solo recordings for the Touch label, or with Avenaim’s live performances in Australia, would be partially clued in to the shifts in approach that occurred in the intervening period. This reissue of Clockwork - its reinstatement in the ‘marketplace’ for immediate edification and dissemination - is not just timely; it is also one of 2005’s headiest pleasures. And that one of the most important pieces of the Ambarchi/Avenaim puzzle will finally achieve its deserved position within a trajectory of non-idiomatic improvisation (I’ll say transitional, lest Lawrence English side-swipe me,) well, one doesn’t need to sound that final gong to induce the respectful applause of the concert patron.
This is, you might say, a photograph of the clockwork of time between.